Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May.
And summer’s lease hath all too short a day.
It’s National Poetry Month and time to muse about poets who wrote plays and novels. First and foremost is William Shakespeare who is thought to have trod the boards in London and written for about five years before the theaters were closed in Southwark by the Privy Council in 1592. A ruthless epidemic of the dreaded plague had struck; the council feared mayhem would erupt amongst the citizens. The council’s order was extended and the theaters did not reopen until 1594. Shakespeare joined the Lord Chamberlain’s Men changed to the King’s Men in 1603.
By 1592, Shakespeare was well-known as the author of dramatic plays but the esteem accorded the plays went to the theatrical company. His name first appeared on the title page of Richard II and Romeo and Juliet in 1597. When the theaters closed, Shakespeare turned to writing dramatic poems such as Venus and Adonis dedicated to Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton who became his patron, there were fifteen editions before 1640. He penned thirty plays and more than one hundred sonnets.
The Bronte family had writing in their DNA. Sisters Emily, Charlotte, Anne and brother Branwell all told tales, read extensively, wrote, and during childhood created a fantasy kingdom and island motivated by Branwell’s toy soldiers. Emily Bronte is best-known for Wuthering Heights, published in 1847, but her first piece is a poem titled “No coward soul is mine.” The poem, part of collection of three poems was privately published one year earlier and written by Currer, Ellis and Acton (the male pseudonyms of the three Bronte sisters). Emily began a second novel but in 1848, she died of tuberculosis and the manuscript was destroyed.
Thomas Hardy’s mother was responsible for his education. She favored Latin poets and French romances. He began to write poems at the age of twenty-two, enjoyed Shakespeare, art and opera but worked for an architectural firm. He met Emma Lavinia Gifford who encouraged his work and he began to believe literature was his proper calling.
Hardy, unable to find a readership for his poetry—his first collection was published in 1898—was advised to write a novel. His first, The Poor Man and the Lady, written in 1867, was rejected by so many publishers he destroyed it. He gained an audience with Far From the Madding Crowd in 1874 and realized he could now give himself a life as a writer.
He wrote Tess of the D’Ubervilles in1891 and Jude the Obscure in 1895 and both books with their unconventional morality shocked critics and his public in that Victorian period. His marriage suffered and it was rumored he had affairs. Hardy said he would never write another novel and began to publish several collections of poems. His novels and poems were influenced by romanticism.
Hardy won worldwide repute and many literary friends by the close of the 19th century, becoming president of the Society of Authors in 1909 and receiving the Order of Merit from King George V. Emma died in 1912 and Hardy, filled with regret, wrote many poems in her memory published as Poems of 1912-13. He passed on in 1928 and wanted his body interred in the same grave as Emma’s but his executor insisted he be place in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner. An agreement was reached—his heart was buried with Emma and his ashes in Poet’s Corner.